The penultimate book. I started this journey at the beginning of August 2014. Well, technically, I started this journey in the mid-90’s, but I started this new journey at the start of August. It’s now the middle of September 2014, and I’m writing this after having finished the Towers of Midnight, the 13th book of The Wheel of Time, and the second of the Brandon Sanderson volumes.
If I’ve had any free time in the last 6 weeks, I’ve read. I’ve read in my lunch break, I’ve read in the evenings, and I’ve read at weekends. I’ve watched almost no TV, and played virtually no computer games since the start of this re-read. If I’m not reading the books, I’m reviewing them. Has it been worth it? It didn’t feel like it, during the middle books, when the Jordanisms were so strong my will to live was sapped by every word, but beyond the horizon I could see the bright light of hope in the three books written by Brandon Sanderson.
On the way, I was surprised by the last Jordan-only book, better than I had hoped, and then the first of the Sanderson volumes was blessed relief. Like a cooling anti-inflammatory rub on your feet after a hard and painful walk. I don’t think Towers of Midnight is quite as good as The Gathering Storm, but it’s a hundred times (not actually 100 times) better than the middle Jordan books. So here we at, near the end of all things, one book to go. Dare I continue? How can I not?
Towers of Midnight is the calm before the storm; the deep breath before the plunge; the moment of reflection before inevitable and unstoppable battle.
Brandon, his publishers and Harriet aren’t silly. They knew that the length of time between book eleven and book twelve, the change of author, and the overall impressions of book six onwards meant that book twelve (The Gathering Storm) had to be hard hitting. Not just hard hitting, but it absolutely had to move the story forward at an impressive pace.
There’s no denying that it did exactly that. Although it focussed on Egwene and Rand, it touched on the other characters, and it fundamentally changed our view of the Last Battle (well, it did mine, hopefully it did yours).
However, that focus and drive meant that we didn’t get as much progress with Perrin, Mat, Elayne, etc. Brandon took the decision to write book thirteen so that the time-line happens in parallel with book twelve for about the first three quarters of the story. Given how much negative feedback Jordan got for doing something similar earlier in the series, this was a brave move. Sanderson had already said he enjoyed the time Jordan did it, but that’s not how many fans felt, so there must have been some nerves on his part.
Where Jordan failed though (in my view), Sanderson excels. This is in no short measure due to his much cleaner writing. Sanderson doesn’t dwell on things that don’t matter, doesn’t spend his time describing the same things over and over again, and so even though we know time is progressing slowly, or covering old ground, it’s much easier to accept. I was briefly confused – Tam al’Thor is present in both time-lines, and having seen him in one place in The Gathering Storm I was momentarily confused by his presence somewhere else in Towers of Midnight. However, once it clicked, it actually helped me work out where in the time-line we were. Once Tam leaves, to carry out the actions we’d already seen in the previous book, it was like a marker in a calender, allowing me to synchronise the two stories in my head.
So, as alluded to at the start of what might be a very long review, Towers of Midnight is slower than The Gathering Storm. It’s more reflective, and it’s much more geared towards moving everyone into their positions before the Final Battle. That isn’t to say that great things don’t happen – I wept, shouted with joy, and despaired along with the cast. Sanderson closes a number of long running threads, none of which I’ll even hint at to avoid spoiling them, and answers some critically important questions.
Not least of which – what’s actually going on with Rand al’Thor. You are going to love the answer, I promise.
There’s a specific and incredibly touching moment, which is only possible because of the overlapping time-lines, and that scene alone justifies the decision for this approach in my view, regardless of the other excellent reasons.
Sanderson’s pace is very good, although at times, I did feel a little shunted around by some of the fast PoV changes in the chapters. That issue aside, at least he uses the PoV changes to drive the underlying story, and the exchanges between Galad and Perrin are sublime.
The Seanchan presence in Towers of Midnight is sinister and confusing, pretty much how they appear to the characters as well. Their almost alien approach to interacting with other people is kind of frustrating, but it sets them apart well enough that you’d never confuse who is who. I really want that to get resolved, so that Tuon stops being ‘an idiot’, but I have to keep reminding myself she’s got a thousand years of convention to get past first.
I enjoyed both Gawyn and Galad’s stories, it’s a very clever combination of contrasts and demonstrates both the brilliance of Jordan’s planning (assuming this was all planned) and the subtlety of Sanderson’s writing.
Speaking of planning – if Jordan had many of the events in this book planned out from the start, and it appears based on certain things written that he might have, then my hat goes off to him once again. His genius of being able to weave so many complex threads from tiny starting points and bring them together into significant conclusions is unequalled in anything I’ve read. That is what makes the story epic.
For me, Brandon has totally subsumed the identities of Jordan’s characters into his writing now. I can’t see where Jordan’s characters stop and Sanderson’s begin – the edges are smooth. Nothing felt out of place or awkward at all, and despite the fears expressed by a friend of mine that Mat loses some of his humour, I found him excellent in this book, and very well represented. The revelation is Rand, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.
There are so many little touches through the book that I just can’t give away, because reading them is so much of the joy of the book, but if you’ve persevered, then like the last book, you’ll be pleased at the pay-offs in this one.
Towers of Midnight is less explosive than The Gathering Storm, but it’s no less impressive, and it’s only marginally less enjoyable. I felt just a little too shunted about by the rapid point of view changes to really get into a good flow, but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent read. Where The Gathering Storm is big and bold, the Towers of Midnight is lithe, multi-faceted and cautious.
A final two words on selfless heroic sacrifice. Lan Mandragoran.
Need you hear any more words than that?
The Decreasingly Retro Retrospective
Nothing really to reflect on here. Haven’t read this before, hadn’t read any reviews of it before I did read it. Brandon had an impossible job, and he’s pulled it off beyond any level of hope or expectation I held.
The Angry Spoilers
What’s to spoil? What’s to be angry about? It’s not a perfect book, which one is, but it’s mostly easy to read, it’s mostly pretty awesome and it’s mostly full of moments of bad-assery from all your favourite characters.